Are You More Than Just Your Lofty Job Title?

Being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. Margaret Thatcher

I read an article a few years back about a minister in a wealthy suburb that had been hit severely by layoffs because of the financial hiccups that the country was going through at that time.

He noticed that the demeanor of many once high-flying executives, who had all the swagger that they wore when the world was theirs, had changed and now they were just a shell of themselves. The vision of having that super title vanish took all their perceived power away. They were truly not themselves.

I am Mr. SVP, that is WHO I am

What was his prognosis? These executives had lost the aurora of no longer being the Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President, or some other fancy title. The minister said it seemed that all their being was tied tightly around that title.

With the big shot tag long gone, their whole self being was gone. They could no longer introduce themselves in their normal way. “Hi, I am Mr. Smith, SVP of Marketing, and what do you do?”

I like dinner parties, but what I do not like is that everyone credentials themselves with some title. You can almost see it in slow motion from afar: the chest sticks out, the smugness rears its head, and viola, I am the SVP or EVP of this or that. It’s like  — POW, take that. The relief of letting everyone know that, yes, I am a big shot.

Titles do not transfer

Titles that appear on org charts have come a long way from foreman, supervisor and manager. They have now gone warp speed. The problem is that people tend to take ownership of them, when in reality, you are just borrowing it until you either leave, get promoted, or are let go.

The title remains; you are just the current rental. That means you rent it for a period of time. Do not take ownership in a way that the role becomes you. There is no transfer of power when you walk out the door.

So, why should you feel a lost of pride if you were to lose it? It was, in reality, never yours anyway. It just went with the job the same as your desk, office, or workspace.

Losing a title is not the end of the world unless you let it be. Sure, your ego may be a little bruised. What a bummer! You just lost your job title! This is the end of the world, right? No, it’s not unless you let it be.

Who are you anyway?

I had a good friend who made VP and he wore it like it was a badge of honor. Any conversation would eventually get around to the fact that he was a VP. He wanted everyone to respect the title because he was the big shot.

Well, that was how it was until he lost the title after getting laid off. He never recovered. Every conversation related back to that job and title.

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He was never able to land another job because he would never consider a role below the VP level. He had it one time and he never wanted to even think about getting a job with another title. He would not even consider it. He thought he owned the title

My question is — who are you?

You need to look inside yourself to see who you really are. If you can see yourself without focusing on the title you had, you will have an easier time realizing your true identity. That’s because your true identity is NOT a title. If you have strong sense of self, the disappearance of your title should not mean anything.

Think about how your title made you think and act. Did you think you were better than everyone else? Were you snobby or inconsiderate? If losing the title made you a better person, it was worth it.

You have the option to move on. When you have no control over what happens to you, you must put the matter behind you and go forward. Until you land again, you must learn to deal with the loss.

So, if you look at your door, business card or stationary and you have arrived with the big title, always remember you are just renting it. Some day you will have to give it back or transfer it to someone else.

You should prepare for this ahead of time and don’t let your self worth get tied up in a few words.

You are bigger than that. Or at least you should be.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.